For some reason when you work in palliative care, others expect that you know something about self-care. Over the years we have presented numerous talks on caring for the carer, looking after yourself and preventing burnout. Perhaps it is palliative care for the health professional?
I am frequently asked “how do you cope in your job? Isn’t it depressing?” My answer is always jocular – I drink wine J.
But the truth is I have struggled with self-care. We are all so busy – and as much as I love my job it is absolutely chaotic. Every day is different. I can see 5 different children, all with dreadful conditions, at 5 different hospitals and squeeze in a tutorial for medical students on how to break bad news in-between. Madness. Sheer madness.
But this year for the first time I have really started to understand what self-care means. It is not an aromatherapy massage once in a while or forcing myself to read a fiction book. It is much harder than that.
It takes discipline – eating well, sleeping enough, exercising, mindfulness – these are not things I am good at. My couch potato genes are very strong. Certain memes sum me up – if you see me running, you better start sprinting because someone is chasing me. The family joke that if I lose my appetite call the undertaker because it is too late to save me!
So what to do?
I read a great book recently called the Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr. They talk of managing energy and not time. With low energy you cannot be fully engaged. Every day balancing the energy that is invested across physical, spiritual and emotional domains. So worth a read if you are struggling with self –care. Click this link for a blog that is an excellent summary.
Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter propose that:
“When burnout is counteracted by engagement,
exhaustion is replaced by enthusiasm,
bitterness by compassion and
anxiety with efficacy”
Who wouldn’t want that?
So as we approach the festive season let’s take time to reflect on what self-care means to us as individuals. The key is probably not to change everything with those New Year’s resolutions in January that last a mere few days. Small things can make a huge difference. Start with the shower – be fully present for the whole thing. Not in the past or stressing about what the day holds, just present.
But now, I think it is time for a glass of wine.